Minnesota moves to help farmers whose flocks hit by bird flu

Published 8:05 am Tuesday, May 5, 2015

ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers moved quickly on Monday to help turkey farmers beset by a deadly and growing outbreak of bird flu, putting together a patchwork of loan programs and emergency response funding to cover farmers’ losses.

The House voted 110 to 18 for a budget bill for the state’s agricultural agencies with a sharp focus on the outbreak. Typically one of the first funding bills lawmakers take up during budget years, the GOP-controlled House hit the pause button on the agricultural budget as the state struggled to grasp the scope of the problem.

Eighty chicken and turkey farms in Minnesota had been hit as of Monday, costing farmers in the nation’s largest turkey-producing state more than 5.3 million birds, according to the state. Officials disclosed Monday that one farm in Nicollet County lost more than 1.1 million hens.

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“This goes beyond the immediate crisis of the avian influenza,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. “There are producers struggling to hold on to their operations, struggling to keep employees working.”

As lawmakers scramble to piece together the state’s budget — a time typically ripe for partisan bickering — the House quickly added a provision to that would send more than $6 million to better fund the state’s response efforts, another that would extend unemployment insurance to employees at farms shuttered by bird flu and a separate one to expand a low-interest state loan program to help farmers get their businesses back up and running.